Sex + Dating

Is It Cheating to Kiss Someone Under the Mistletoe?

There’s a tradition in America that literally looms over our heads every holiday season and causes sexual tension between friends and coworkers every time it shows up: the mistletoe. Where did it start? Who thought of it? How did it come to be that a harmless little weed could inspire so much Yuletide debauchery? And most importantly, is it cheating if you kiss someone besides your partner under it?

Glad you asked.

The mistletoe has a checkered past, replete with murder, deceit, and semen. The whole thing started as a Celtic religious ceremony. Druids clad in white would sacrifice two white bulls and use the mistletoe to make an elixir, which was distributed to the townspeople to resolve infertility issues and act as a cure-all for poisoning. This is actually true. In their defense, the Druids were always sacrificing people or animals or whatever.

Two people caught under the mischievous, hemiparasitic plant have to kiss each other. Why?

It’s kind of a long story. History traces the mistletoe back well before Christianity to the Norse god Baldur. Baldur was so well loved that his mother-goddess Frigg cast a spell to ensure her son wouldn't be harmed by anything. Really -- she named each and every single thing in the world, but forgot to add one plant to her list: mistletoe. So this mischievous god Loki made a dart out of the plant, shot Baldur with it, and killed him. Frigg swore the plant would never again be used as a weapon; and that she would instead kiss anyone who passed under it.

So, whether we like it or not, we’ve been sorta avenging the death of the Norse god Baldur by sucking tongue with receptionists and IT guys. Mistletoe's relationship to fertility cruised right through the Middle Ages and scored a coveted spot among Christmas celebrations. Some early customs dictated that men could steal kisses from any women standing beneath mistletoe. Other records indicate a mistletoe berry could be picked for each kiss until all berries were gone. And still other history suggests mistletoe was hung as a symbol of fertility with sticky mistletoe seeds reminiscent of... semen.

Norse gods? Sticky seeds? What?! Keep all that in mind next time you suck on a friend’s tongue underneath the mistletoe. Regardless of the semen-filled history, we follow this tradition and happily play tonsil tennis with our friends, coworkers, and unpaid interns. During a formal survey sent around the Thrillist headquarters, followed by a discussion at an undisclosed bar in Brooklyn, 80% of our staff decided that it was, in fact, cheating if you were to kiss under a mistletoe. However, a verbal asterisk lingered in the air: “What kind of kiss? Because a peck isn’t cheating. Full-on tongue is something you shouldn’t do.”

When we posed the crucial question to relationship expert/celebrity matchmaker Amy Laurent, she gave us the following thoughts: “YES IT'S CHEATING! And if you have ANY question in your mind if you should consider it cheating and are debating kissing someone under the mistletoe, the quickest way to get your answer is to flip it. 'If my significant other were with someone of the opposite sex right now under the mistletoe, and kissed that person the way I am going to kiss/plan on kissing the person would it make me angry? Upset? Would I be OK with it?'

"If you can honestly answer that question for yourself and the answer is yes, then you definitely need to reevaluate why you were even considering the idea as being OK.”

Writer Kate Hakala agrees... to a point: “I guess I would consider it cheating, a little bit," she said. "It depends on your relationship. Mainly because: why isn't your girlfriend/boyfriend/partner at this party? Why aren't they smooching you up beneath the mistletoe and pouring you another hot toddy? If you make allowances for the kiss under the mistletoe, then it could just be opening up a can of worms. But me personally? Yeah, I would still totally do it. It's festive.”

It's festive, guys; but most importantly, it's up to you. Kiss whoever you want! Or don't! This is America. Happy holidays! 

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Jeremy Glass is a writer for Thrillist and only kisses people under weeping willows.